The US is after Haqqani network
25 November, 2013
By Asif Haroon Raja
It seems that the US has renewed its efforts to disrupt and dismantle Haqqani network (HN). After the suicide attack on Camp Chapman of CIA in Khost on December 30, 2009, CIA carried out aggressive drone campaign against HN under Jalaluddin Haqqani in Khost and his son Sirajuddin in North Waziristan (NW). HN was banned by USA since it was considered a big threat in Eastern Afghanistan and Kabul. Almost every day drone strike was launched to target HN leaders.
From January 2010 onwards, the US began mounting pressure on Pakistan to launch a major operation in NW to eliminate safe havens of HN. Gen David Petraeus, Commander US-NATO forces in Afghanistan made his planned operation in Kandahar conditional to an operation in NW. The US ignored Pakistan's pleas that Pak Army had undertaken three major operations in Swat, Bajaur and SW in 2009 and was over stretched and couldn't afford to pullout additional forces from eastern border because of Indian threat.
In the wake of increased attacks in and around Kabul in 2011 including high profile targets inside highly fortified Kabul in September, the then CJCSC Admiral Mike Mullen declared HN as the veritable arm of ISI. In order to force Pakistan to launch an operation in NW, western border was heated up in April 2011 with the help of fugitive Fazlullah who had fled from Swat in July 2009. The US military is still obsessed with HN and has lately stepped up its efforts to incapacitate this outfit. Jalaluddin's youngest son Omar Haqqani was killed in Khost in 2008 in a combat, while other two sons Badruddin and Mohammad were killed by drones in NW in 2009 and August 2013 respectively. Recently, the fourth son Dr. Naseeruddin Haqqani was murdered in Islamabad on November 11, 2013. Possible suspects are CIA, Afghan NDS and Fazlullah.
The reason why Fazlullah is one of the suspects is that in last October it was reported in the media that Fazlullah's base of operation in Kunar had been uprooted by the Taliban after inflicting heavy casualties. The reason behind the attack in all probability was that Fazlullah controlled by foreign agencies was deliberately impeding peace process in Pakistan. It was reported that Fazlullah died in the attack. However it transpired later on that he survived. Being highly vindictive, he swore to take revenge from HN, which he suspected had attacked his base at the behest of ISI to avenge the death of Maj Gen Sanaullah Niazi, martyred in Upper Dir on September 15th. His patrons too encouraged him to avenge the deadly attack. Since it was not possible for him to harm HN in Khost or in NW, he planned to go for a soft target to convey a strong message to Jalaluddin to keep his hands off him. Fazlullah tasked his men in Swat region to keep Dr Naseeruddin under surveillance and kill him whenever opportunity came their way. Naseeruddin was not involved in militancy and was leading a quiet life with his family in Islamabad since long.
No sooner Sartaj Aziz gave good news to the nation on November 20 that the US has assured Pakistan that there will be no drone strikes while talks are in progress, a seminary in Thal Tehsil of Hangu District where young children were imparted religious training was struck by a drone on November 21. The missiles fired from a Reaper struck the two rooms of a nine-room Madrassa run by Afghan cleric Qari Nurullah. It was yet another blow delivered to HN, since one of its key leaders Maulana Hameedullah was among the six Afghan clerics killed. The US claimed that three members of HN including Sirajuddin were regular visitors of this seminary. This admission was a clear indication that the US is after HN and may have been involved in Naseerudin's murder as well. Latest strike was more dangerous than the previous ones since it took place in settled area of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). Interior Minister Nisar dubbed USA as untrustworthy since assurance had also been given to Nawaz Sharif when he met Obama in Washington on October 23, but was not honored.
CIA must have stepped up its efforts to locate and gun down the surviving son Sirajuddin based in NW to debilitate HN. The reason why the US has got after HN is its linkage with Pakistan. There is no denying the fact that of all the Afghan factions, HN is closest to Pakistan and farthest from Northern Alliance, Karzai, USA and India. Influence over HN enables Pakistan to have a say in Afghan conundrum and figure out prominently in the US calculations.
Deaths of Hakimullah, Naseeruddin and Hameedullah and arrest of Latif Mehsud by US Special Forces in Afghanistan and appointment of Fazlullah as new chief of TTP are significant events which have impacted Pakistan's position. Latif who was a close confidante and deputy of Hakeemullah is a valuable asset in the hands of USA. He was arrested at a time when TTP was sharply divided between pro-peace and anti-peace groups and Latif was among the latter group. Not only he must have divulged the program of visit of Hakeemullah to Dandey Darpakhel to hold peace talks which enabled CIA to kill him on November 1, he must have by now disclosed all the details concerning TTP's command structure, logistic, communication and intelligence systems, hideouts, pro-and anti-US members of TTP Shura and Council, their alliances with local and foreign groups, sources of funding and procurement of weapons and explosives, factories producing IEDs and suicide jackets, aims and objectives and their system of motivation, recruitment and training. In addition, requisite information about HN must also have been extracted from him. That is the reason CIA is achieving rapid successes in targeting HN leading lights.
Information accessed from Latif about Shura members deciding the selection of next chief must have helped CIA to influence them. Each one must have been warned that their fate would be no different than Hakeemullah if they had their own way. Changed circumstances have made it possible for CIA, NDS and RAW to further tighten their grip over TTP and its new leader residing in Kunar as well as on Faqir Muhammad and Khalid Khurasani, the two TTP leaders of Bajaur and Mehmand Agencies respectively who too are absconders and staying in Afghanistan. The three agencies are now in a better position to manipulate the working of TTP to their advantage and to the disadvantage of Pakistan.
Another possible change that seems to be in the offing is the centre of gravity of TTP shifting from FATA to settled areas of KP with depth resting in Kunar and Nuristan. Other than Bajaur and Mehmand tribal agencies, within Provincial Administered Tribal Area (PATA), areas that may become hotter could be Dir, Buner, Malakand, Swat, Shangla, Chitral and Swabi. Area up to Mardan and Nowshera may get affected. This shift in emphasis will be owing to the new Ameer hailing from Swat and his deputy Khalid belonging to Swabi. Increased militancy in settled areas would facilitate USA to employ drones in turbulent areas. Our nuclear facilities would therefore become more vulnerable.
After successfully scuttling the peace process with the help of drones and terrorist attacks, the US can now bargain with Pakistan from a position of strength and can say that if Pakistan wants peace with TTP, it will have to play its role in ensuring peace in Afghanistan by bringing HN leaders on the negotiating table and convincing them to agree to US terms and conditions. The US will keep the cards of TTP and drones and continue playing them to keep Pakistan in line.
The situation has taken a slightly different turn after blockade of NATO supply routes in Peshawar by KP government led by Imran Khan on November 23 in protest against drone strike in Hangu. Imran has been the leading opponent of drones and has singled out drone as the major reason of terrorism in Pakistan and the main impediment in the way of peace. Last time supply routes were blocked in late November after Salala tragedy. The blockade remained enforced for about seven months but Pakistan couldn't extract anything better from USA when new MoU was inked in July 2012. No apology was rendered, or an assurance given that repeat of 26 November like vandalism would not take place in future. Our demands of raising the transit fee to $5000 per container and stopping drone attacks were not met. It is to be seen how Pakistan government plays its cards now when the US posing as friend refuses to sheath the drone and is bent upon thwarting reconciliation process.
The writer is a retired Brig, defence analyst and columnist. email@example.com